One of the great things about National Team football is that you get a chance to see the best players of a certain country. For me a trio to Croatia gave me the privilege to see some of the best of the best from players who grace the pitch for Real Madrid, Barcelona and Juventus. Teams that play in the top leagues in Europe.
When you’re talking about a National Team friendly you certainly get exactly that. Friendly players. Since the pressure for most is off when you play friendly matches, the players are usually much more accessible and talkative than prior to a qualifying match of some sort. The players are laid back, hanging out and schmoozing with friends and some cases their families.
This is exactly what the situation was with the Croatian National Team staying at the Hotel Osijek the night before their friendly at Gradski Stadium.
Ivan Rakitic of Barcelona was the guest of honor for the Croatian fan club event taking place at the team hotel exactly 24 hours before meeting Israel and though he had been injured and ruled out for the match, Rakitic was present to receive the award. And not only that, he stayed for what seemed to be an eternity taking pictures with any and every fan that wanted one, giving interviews and signing a plenitude of autographs. He couldn’t have been nicer!
It’s rare to see a player of his stature so down to earth and kind to both young and old. It was heartening to see his patience at the event, speaking to all that wished and look like he was enjoying it as much as everyone around him was.
Matteo Kovacic was sitting in the hotel restaurant, Mario Mandzukic was waking around while others like Alen Halilovic, Darijo Srna and starting keeper Substacic were more than happy to stop, shake hands, take selfies and say a few words to the fans around the hotel, which was accessible to the general public as well.
As these stars, world giants ready themselves for the Euro 2016 in France, the quality and personal qualities of the players are second to none. Luka Modric the Real Madrid playmaker and superstar was ready to take as many pictures with the fans along with stadium personnel and others who were present after the Croatia National Team’s final training session.
The pressure is immense on some of these players on a day in day out basis with their club sides or when the National teams play in qualifying match for the European Championships or World Cup. So to see these guys just chilling and being cool is well, very very cool indeed.
The players were like the city of Osijek, modest, kind and welcoming. We can all take a page out of the Croatian National Team’s book.